If you are considering booking a flight or a hotel stay through an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia or Kayak, you should be very careful if you are trying to maximize rewards points. In general, it is rare to earn hotel points when booking through an OTA, but it is possible to earn miles. However, the miles you earn are often at a discounted rate.
What is an OTA?
Online travel agencies work with the simple goal of saving you money. OTAs such as Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, and Priceline will post discounted deals on flights and booking if you book through their website. Then, these OTA’s will charge a small fee when you book through them, allowing them to make a profit.
The largest problem when booking through an OTA is that you may not receive rewards for your travel purchases. Many hotels will not offer points unless you make a direct booking through the hotel. For example, if you are a frequent Hilton stayer, and you own the Hilton Honors American Express card, you typically will not be awarded points for your stay if you do not book through Hilton. Thus, although you may get better deals when booking through an OTA, you probably will invalidate the rewards and perks of your credit card in the process.
Flying is a little different. Typically, you will receive miles when you book your flight with your travel credit card through an OTA. However, airlines try to disincentivize you from booking through travel agencies by docking the rewards that you can earn or by adding fees. JetBlue, for example, adds extra fees if you book through an OTA, making it more attractive to book through JetBlue directly.
Also, on flights that have really discounted fares, you may earn fewer miles than you normally would. These flights are often called “exception fares” and the number of miles you earn may vary based on the distance of the flight and the class of ticket you bought (economy, first-class).
Overall, even though you probably will receive miles and points when you book through Expedia or Kayak for flights, they will probably be at a discounted rate, and it is likely that you will not receive points on hotels at all using an OTA.
Although you may not receive the maximum credit card rewards when you are using Expedia, these sites offer their own rewards systems, which allow you to earn rewards from various different sites. You should look into different OTA’s to see how their rewards systems vary, as there are plenty of other options available, such as Hotels.com, Travelocity, and more.
Kayak, unfortunately, does not have a loyalty program, as Kayak operates slightly differently than other OTAs. Kayak is more of a search engine than anything else, so it will help redirect you to other websites and OTAs that provide the best deal. Kayak earns money by charging other travel companies to place their deals on Kayak’s website. Thus, you will not earn rewards through Kayak, but you very easily can earn rewards through the websites that Kayak redirects you to.
Expedia, on the other hand, has its own generous rewards program for frequent users. First of all, you will receive points per dollar spent through their website. Specifically, you earn 2 points per $1 spent on hotels, vacation packages, activities, cars, or cruises, and you earn 1 point per $5 spent on flights. Thus, if an airline does not reduce your points for booking through Expedia, then this can be a valuable option because you will earn points from the credit card company and points from Expedia.
Also, Expedia tries to enhance user experience through the Expedia app. That being said, if you are an owner of the Expedia app and make your bookings through the app, then you will earn double points, allowing you to really cash in the rewards.
Your points are not able to be used until you complete your travel, and then, your points should appear on your account as available for redemption. For example, points from flights, vacation packages, and hotels paid at the time of booking will be confirmed 30 days after you complete your travel. Points for hotels paid at the time of the stay can take 35 days, cruises can take 45 days, and cars can take all the way up to 3 months.
For the most part, when you earn points with Expedia your points will not expire. Thus, you can save up your points to redeem them for the trip that you want. However, if you do not redeem or earn points for 18 months, then your points will be taken away. If you are someone who travels often and books through Expedia often, then you will be fine, but if you are someone who does not travel frequently or use OTAs then you may be at risk of losing all of your rewards.
There are multiple ways in which you can redeem your points with Expedia. The hotel redemption value is .71 cents per point, but if you book at one of 3,500+ VIP Access hotels, you can double that value. Redeeming points for flights provide 0.7-1.0 cents per point, and you must be able to cover the entire cost of the flight with points. These tickets also cannot be changed or canceled, making it not the best way to redeem your points. Vacation packages can be redeemed starting at 3,500 points which provides a $25 coupon, all the way to 140,000 points, which will provide a $1,000 coupon toward a vacation package. Car rentals provide .71 cents per point, activities in random destinations around the world provide .71 cents per point, and you can donate your points to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where points are also worth .71 cents. As you can see, there are plenty of different ways in which you can redeem your points, providing you some flexibility when you shop through Expedia.
Also, Expedia offers two different elite statuses: Silver status for those who spend $5,000 on eligible purchases or complete 7 nights of hotel stays in a year and Gold status for those who spend $10,000 or complete 15 nights of hotel stays in a year. With silver elite status, you will receive 10% bonus points, 250 VIP access hotel bonus points, and priority customer service. With gold status, you will earn 30% bonus points, 250 VIP access hotel bonus points, room upgrades, flexible check-in/check-out at VIP access hotels, and priority customer service. Although these perks are friendly, they are not that lucrative, meaning you should not go out of your way to try to reach one of these elite statuses.
Expedia Credit Cards
Lastly, Expedia has two co-branded credit cards themself, allowing you to quickly earn Expedia rewards. These credit cards are only recommended for people who book frequently through Expedia. First, the Expedia Rewards Card from Citi provides 3x points on Expedia purchases and automatic silver status at no annual fee. Secondly, the Expedia Rewards Voyager card offers 4x points on eligible Expedia purchases, 2x points on dining and entertainment, automatic gold status, $100 annual airline travel fee credit, and no foreign transaction fees, all for $95. These credit cards are only recommended for people who make practically all of their travel bookings through Expedia.
Overall, booking with Expedia or Kayak can count toward credit card points. Kayak is a little different since it redirects you to other OTAs, but in general, most OTAs will give you discounted points on flights but no points on hotel bookings. However, Expedia has its own rewards system, and if you are a frequent Expedia user, you should consider the two Expedia credit cards as well.